School districts in B.C. are being denied opportunities to spend money to make money — and to help kids learn — when those investments take more than a year to pay off.
That’s the view of the School District 69 (Qualicum) school board, which has sent a letter to the B.C. ministers of education and finance proposing a change to the School Act that would allow school boards to run deficits in their annual budgets.
The proposal was initially part of a wider proposal to change the School Act, which was submitted by SD69’s previous board in 2014. The deficit proposal was brought up again by trustee and vice-chair Julie Austin at the board’s Oct. 24 meeting.
The letter to the ministers was sent in early November.
“It’s never made a whole lot of sense to budget on an annual basis,” Austin said in an interview after the board’s Nov. 28 meeting.
That’s because the stipulation in the School Act that a school district’s estimated yearly expenditures must not exceed estimated revenues means a loss of opportunity when it comes to investments that take more than a year to pay off, she said.
The board provided an example in its letter to the ministers:
“Our board was presented with a proposal from our trades teachers to buy a gutted residence in an expanding neighbourhood very near one of our high schools,” reads the letter. “This project would have greatly benefitted our trades programs, computer design classes, math classes, etc., as the house would be finished by the local high school students.
“The house would then have been sold, most likely at a profit. In order to have created this opportunity for our students the board had to act quickly and finance the project with our surplus. Unfortunately, the surplus was needed that year to balance the budget and the board was unable to consider the proposal.”
Austin’s motion to send the letter didn’t pass without some concern.
“As soon as I hear ‘deficit,’ the hair stands up on the back of my head,” Trustee Barry Kurland said, adding, “I just think it’s a bad road to go down.”
Nonetheless, the motion was carried.
With the Ministry of Education currently undergoing a funding review, Austin said she hoped the timing would be right for consideration of the proposal.
“I think people recognize that it makes sense. It’s just getting them to make that extra step,” Austin said.
Even if the government doesn’t allow deficits, she said, the proposal might at least bring attention to the problem and get the government to consider other potential options for addressing it.